Rødhåd: Dystopian’s unstoppable force
For most people, living with the bleakness of daily modern life – dismal youth unemployment stats, an impenetrable capitalist regime, persistent global unrest – creates a sort of omnipresent millennial anxiety. But it’s precisely this socio-economic climate which fuels Rødhåd’s DJing, production and involvement in the collective run event-series-turned-label Dystopian, inverting the numbing mechanical sprawl of his surroundings with sleek, hypnotic sounds.
It might be a cliché to think of techno in terms of its environment, but the structure of Berlin is instrumental to Rødhåd’s journey. Widely regarded as an archetypal Berlin DJ, Rødhåd – meaning ‘red head’ – went from putting on open air events in the city’s suburbs to cutting his teeth at the city’s notorious Golden Gate club. In 2009, Rødhåd began putting on regular parties with two other Berlin natives as Dystopian, branding their dark approach to music and programming with great success.
As enthusiasm for the parties grew, so did the praise surrounding Rødhåd’s notoriously extended sets, allowing him to hone the six hour plus closing sessions he has become known for, and present them at Berghain not long after. The label, which takes inspiration from “a mechanist present, an industrial era, warehouses … noise”, has captured a style that’s precise, powerful and melancholic, finding freedom in a world running on empty with music that turns nights into days.
Last year, Rødhåd went from juggling his DJ career with a job at an architecture firm to becoming one of the most in demand DJs on the international circuit. This, along with the rise and consistent strength of the label and Rødhåd’s own hypnotic, dancefloor-focused production style, has led Dystopian to become one of techno’s most distinguishable collectives.
It’s on a grey Berlin afternoon that we meet the new techno heavyweight in Kreuzberg’s Milch & Zucker cafe. Much like his DJ sets, once Rødhåd is given a good amount of time to find a groove, the Dystopian ideologies began to flow deep, dark and heavy.
You were born in 1984. To what extent do you think being born in such a symbolic year has shaped who you are? You called your first release 1984, and there’s your track Newspeak [the fictional language taken from Orwell’s novel].
It’s a good question. I read the book of course, but until this point I never thought about any influences from the year. The 1984 EP is just one release in our whole Dystopian catalogue. We always try to transport a certain feeling with the releases, the idea is to get people thinking about the names, the titles, the artwork. And in a way 1984 is actually now – we’re living in a dystopian society. That’s maybe the best thing to take from it, because things in the book are becoming real now. Like the internet, you know everybody is … Dystopian is watching you. [laughs
You have a history in architecture. Do you consider architecture to be an art-form, a mode of expression in the same way techno is?
Of course, architecture is an art by itself, but as a construction drawer, for me it’s more to see the technical things behind it, to find solutions, to build things.
Techno has always been about the future of sound and exploring machines. Some people think modern day techno is slightly obsessed with the past, with people clinging onto the 808 and the 909 etc. Do you think techno is looking more to the past or the future at the minute?
That’s an interesting question. For me it’s always a mixture of things from the past and things informing the future. At the moment we have the instruments alongside the computer and you can do so many other things. In the 90s, for example, you had the 909. The 909 is a classic drum machine and I also use those sounds for the music I make. But in a way, at the moment it’s as if it’s stopped getting more futuristic. At the beginning of 2000 we had this pretty hard techno, it was difficult to have a lot of sounds in your tracks. Since 2005, the sound of modern techno we’re talking about, often people call it “the sound of Berghain”, is this stripped-down techno. But it’s coming to a point where the style of music has to change because everybody’s doing the same. Everybody is using the same sounds again, you can hear everyone is doing the same tricks and working with super compressed sound. Whenever I get promos, I see this big flat waveform.
There’s that pressure to be loud in the club though.
Yeah, of course. [laughs]
You’re known for playing very lengthy sets. Do you think an extended set is needed to get the true potential of the techno experience?
Yeah, of course! And it’s also difficult for me now – I’m used to playing long sets, but I’m playing a lot of gigs with only two, three hours now. Last year was the first year I played a lot of festival sets. In the beginning I was struggling with it because I had the feeling you have to be on a higher energy level with your performance at festivals to get the crowd moving. Of course it’s been a process of learning to deliver in a short time and to keep people still interested in your set. When you see 4000 people standing in front of you, you’re under pressure to make them dance. You are the person that has to bring the good time … quickly! [laughs] For me, you need a bit of time to get into a mood, and into a groove. If the DJ is really moving you, you can’t stop dancing for six or eight hours because it’s just so amazing, you’re closing your eyes and standing in the middle of the dancefloor. As a DJ I normally need to really get into the sound tunnel – I don’t know how to describe it, to get into the mood I need like two or three hours to get really into it, then you get to a point where you don’t have to think about what you’re playing, it’s just what you’re feeling, creating ups and downs.
You just released Soliloquy, the tenth release on Dystopian and a compilation of the label’s artists. A soliloquy is speaking your innermost thoughts regardless of who’s watching. Is that a suggestion that, despite your growing audience, you’re going to carry on doing what you’re doing? You’ve become a cover star over the last year, for example, is that affecting you?
It’s not affecting the way we think about the music we’re releasing because there is still an idea in our mind which holds everything together – the melancholic, Dystopian vibe. But we also want to surprise ourselves and our followers. We’re looking forward. We’re exploring. The review from Resident Advisor for the Soliloquy EP says we are ‘uncompromising’ techno music, and that’s something we’re trying to change a bit now. Every kind of music can work with the Dystopian idea.
"When you live in such a bubble of travelling, strong emotions and also strong opinions, you need to be optimistic. Otherwise you lose your mind."
And what do you think about labels like Drumcode that are making functional music for the rave. Is that still techno to you?
Yes, of course it’s techno, but let’s maybe call it ‘working techno’. It’s functional. Sometimes not my cup of tea, but they have their own idea of the Drumcode concept and they have their own vision. In a way, Drumcode was always a functional label. I remember when I started DJing, I had a lot of Drumcode records from the old times – and it was always loopy, tribal style techno. But I also play the newer stuff, Alan Fitzpatrick, Ben Sims, some Adam Beyer stuff. I have a lot of the Drumcode catalogue, from one to 50 or something. I don’t know what number they are on now, maybe 200 or 300… [laughs]
And finally, whether in techno, the world, your personal life – what are you optimistic about?
I’m always optimistic. When you live in such a bubble of travelling, strong emotions and also strong opinions, you need to be optimistic. Otherwise you lose your mind and the respect of the privilege you have.
So do you think you’ll still be doing this in five years?
Being healthy is an important thing for myself. Of course I hope I will be still around, but I don’t want to stand still, I’ll be doing other music and projects next to techno in the future. Hopefully you can ask me the same question again then.
Rødhåd appears at BLOC, Butlins Minehead 13 – 15 March and Time Warp, Maimakthalle, Mannheim, 5 – 6 April